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Over 500 schools in France’s crosshairs after contentious abaya ban

A Muslim woman, wearing the style of dress called an abaya, walks in a street in Nantes, France, August 29, 2023. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

With the start of the new academic year, over 500 schools are in the crosshairs of the French authorities looking for signs of students violating a newly announced ban on the abaya, the education minister confirmed Monday.

The government announced the controversial ban on the abaya in schools last month, claiming it broke the rules on secularism in education that have already seen Muslim headscarves banned.

“There are 513 establishments that we have identified as potentially concerned by this question at the start of the school year,” Education Minister Gabriel Attal told RTL radio.

He said work had been done ahead of the start of the school year to see in which schools this could present a problem, adding that trained school inspectors would be placed in certain schools.

Abaya is a loose-fitting, full-length robe for women generally worn in many Arab, Middle Eastern and North African countries.

The move drew criticism and ridicule from rights and religious minority groups but was applauded by French conservatives.

The left has accused the government of centrist President Emmanuel Macron of trying with the abaya ban to compete with Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally and shifting further to the right.

Abdallah Zekri, vice-chair of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), made a similar point, saying Attal’s decision was misguided.

“The abaya is not religious attire, it’s a type of fashion,” he told BFM TV.

Meanwhile, a rights watchdog in France has challenged the government’s abaya ban in schools at the Council of State, the country’s highest court.

Vincent Brengarth, the lawyer for the Muslim Rights Action (ADM), wrote on X late Friday that they filed an appeal with the Council of State to seek the suspension of the ban, which he said violates “several fundamental freedoms.”

Brengarth, with his colleague William Bourdon, applied to the court on behalf of the rights group, he said.

Earlier Friday, French President Emmanuel Macron vowed that the government will be uncompromising on the over-garment ban in schools.

He backed Attal’s stance, saying: “We will be uncompromising on this topic … We will take actions beyond words.”

The controversial move sparked backlash toward the government for targeting Muslims with statements and policies.

It has carried out raids on mosques and charitable foundations in recent years and passed an “anti-separatism” law that slaps wide-ranging restrictions on the community.

By Daily Sabah with Agencies

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